How to Record a Song in a Studio | The Best Studio Session Plan
If you’re going to record a song in a studio, you need to spend your time and money wisely. Find out how to record a song with a studio session plan to get the best recording possible at the end of a studio session.
Make a schedule with the engineer once you know you’re budget and have booked studio time. Don’t waste time and always follow the studio rules. Do this and it will be much easier to make great music when you record a song in a studio.
Unless you have your own home studio, you want to ensure that make the most of the time and money you spend in the studio. In this guide, we will outline 10 tips to make the most of the studio to help you create the best recordings possible.
How to record a song
- Make a studio schedule
- Communicate with the engineer
- Follow the rules of the studio
- Don’t waste session time
- Work out how much time you need
- Prepare for a long day
- Be patient
- Trust the engineers
- Break down your time
- Sort out your budget
- Plan post-production
Recording as a singer, songwriter or musician is one of the most exciting things to do in the music industry. However, if you don’t know how to record, it can be a stressful process. No two studios, tracks, engineers or producers are the same. Each and every session is different, presenting its own set of unique challenges. It’s crucial that you start the process knowing what to expect and how you’ll achieve the desired results.
Recording studio schedule template
#1 Make a studio schedule
Before you even set foot in the studio, you should create a schedule. No matter how long you’re recording for, a recording studio session plan will make a world of difference.
Break the day up into several sections, 2-3 hours at a time and then begin dissecting your songs into manageable chunks. If you are playing with a band, you may want to lay down a guide track as a live unit. After this, break off and record individual parts over the top. Very often, engineers will want to get the drums laid down first. They can be the trickiest to get right and are the absolute bedrock of most songs.
You can then have chunks of time devoted to bass, guitars, keys, strings – whatever fills up the main body of the tune.
Vocals are usually recorded last, once the rest of the band has done their bit. Lead vocals first and then backing and harmonies afterwards. So, if you have a single day to record a track, say 12 hours, you need to plan to fit all of your elements into that time.
#2 Communicate with the engineer
Be clear about your expectations and communicate with your engineer. Remember that they’re not mind-readers, they don’t know your song and they have no idea how good you guys are. So, speak up if things aren’t going as expected. Be clear about the structure of the song, the tone of the tune and the expectations you have of the soundscape you would like to achieve.
You need to let the engineer know what he or she is in for in terms of that schedule. It may be that the studio has certain quirks and that certain things have to be done together. At Toe Rag studios (where the White Stripes recorded Elephant), you record to tape. Depending on the number of instruments you have, you may need to record the drums and bass together as one track.
At the world famous Rockfield Studio (in Wales), the digital recording facilities mean you don’t need to worry about the number of instruments you have. However, instruments like their Hammond organ may take time to set up, which needs consideration in the schedule. If the engineer knows exactly what you want to achieve, they can make suggestions to help you make the most of your time.
Recording studio rules
#3 Follow the rules of the studio
There are rules that artists and bands need to adhere to in a studio. You need to make the most of the experience and ensure that your sound engineers and producers feel like you are respecting them and the studio.
First up, get there on time. Make sure you arrive, park and load-in with a bit of time to spare. You may need to set up drums, tune-up and warm up before you can think about recording. If you are bringing your own amps, they will need to be mic’d and you will have to think about who is going where and which order everyone is recording.
If you get there with on time, you won’t feel rushed. You can have a chat with the engineer and have your plan clearly explained and work through any issues that may crop up.
Don’t move anything unless you are asked to. The studio is the engineer’s space and they will have a specific way of working. You might think you are being helpful but studios are full of cabling and acoustic sweet spots. Think twice because moving that guitar amp might not be as helpful as you think.
Be respectful. This should go without saying, but don’t put your feet up on the desk. Don’t eat or drink or handle any food around the food. However, you can always offer to make the engineer tea or coffee. Just clean up after yourselves and offer to help out where you can.
Remember that you are there to work. You might be a diva on stage or the next Hendrix on the guitar but your reputation in professional circles is important. Put the effort in, tune up after every take and know your material inside out. Also, give the engineer some notes so they can get up to speed quickly.
The recording session
#4 Don’t waste session time
Studios can look like fun and games on Instagram. However, sessions can actually be quite stressful, especially when you miss takes or have to change tack on the fly to get the best recording. This is why time management is very important.
If you want to get the most out of your time, then you need to work really hard. Tricky parts may require dozens of takes so you need to crack on rather than having a break between each take. Recording is utterly magical when things are going well but it can become a long slog if things spiral out of control. Keep yourself energised with some good food and lots of water and remember to stick to your plan.
How long is a recording session?
#5 Work out how much time you need
It’s really tough to know how long to book your session for. Some studios charge by the hour, others by the day or half-day. At some you can stay over in accommodation, at others you’ll have to spring for a hotel. However, a solo-artist laying down vocals over an existing recording could get away with a few hours or half a day.
If you are in a band with a lot of instruments, you’ll need to think about how many parts you’ll need to lay down. Consult the engineer because they’re experience will help you work out the time you need. A good rule of thumb is that, with a full band, it will take a whole day to record the music and at least half a day to get the vocals down too. Then you’ll need time to mix and master.
If you want to be there to make changes to the mix, then you’ll need to allow for that time too. Some bands prefer to mix and master all their tracks together in a separate session at the end of the process.
What is recording like in a studio?
#6 Prepare for a long day
The days can be really long. Most studios will work a 12 hour day and depending on the engineer, you could end up working well into the night. It’s important that you stay focused and stick to your schedule. It is also a pressured environment. The time pressure means that you can quite easily fall behind.
That’s why it is imperative that you have done as much rehearsing as you can before the session. You should know your song(s) inside out. It’s much easier to play from muscle memory rather than having to really concentrate. What’s more, the performance you deliver will be much more organic and natural if you are already used to performing it.
Recording studio sessions
#7 Be patient
Very often, due to financial restrictions, you will have to break your recording time into sessions. This is even more likely if the studio you pick is popular. You may have to fit around a bunch of other artists and their recording timetables.
This makes planning even more essential because you have to be patient and organised. Each and every time you set foot in the studio you are productive and chipping away to achieve that final goal.
#8 Trust the engineers
In terms of technical knowledge, you don’t need to know all that much about the workings of the studio itself. The engineer is there to make sure you sound at your very best. But make sure you make his or her job as easy as possible by knowing your own parts, knowing how you want to sound and delivering your best possible performances for each and every take.
If you play an instrument, you need to know your own equipment really well. You need to know what sound you want and how to get it from the instrument and/or any amplification you may be using. Engineers know an awful lot, but they may not have much experience with the brands you are using. So do your research and make sure you know what you want before you head in there.
Communication is your biggest ally in the studio. Making sure the engineer knows exactly what you want to achieve is half the battle. It’s no good listening back after hours of work and not being happy with how you sound.
Once again preparation is the key. You can send the engineer examples of how you want to sound before you even set foot in the studio and this will mean that even as they are setting up, your sound is being catered for.
#9 Break down your time
Artists and bands like to break their time into sessions because recording can be a stressful and time-consuming process. The session is simply the time that you spend in the studio and a session can be a couple of hours or a couple of days. It allows them to recharge and come back to the project with renewed vigour.
How much does it cost to record in a studio?
It completely depends on the type of studio and how many of you there are recording. A solo artist is naturally going to have to pay more than a 7 piece band because they can split the bill. However, some studios do offer discounts for solo artists so it’s best to check. Simply find a studio you like and ask for their price sheet to get a better idea of studio rates.
#10 Sort out your budget
It could take a whole day to record a song but you might even need more. Depending on the studio rates, that could equate to a simple two-day booking or 24hours if you are paying by the hour.
This could end up being quite expensive. Make sure you and anyone else you’re recording with know how much you’re prepared to spend before you start booking. Also, try doing some test recordings on your phone to get a better idea of how much time you need. This will help you get a more realistic budget together and encourage you to make the most of your time.
What do you do in a recording studio?
For most songs, you will first lay down a guide track. This is the most basic version of the song which you will then use to play along to later.
The next job will be to lay down the drums. This forms the backbone of the song and contributes a great deal to the ‘feel’ of the recording.
Next, the bass, guitars, keys, synths, strings and other instrument parts will be laid down to fill the main body of the tune.
After these, comes the vocals. Here the main vocal and double-tracking take will be recorded, followed by any backing vocals.
Finally, any percussion and additional parts will be added.
#11 Plan post-production
Once all of these are in place a rough studio mix will be created for you to listen back to.
When you are happy that you have all the parts, the mixing begins. It’s here that you can develop the feel of the song and add the technical elements like effects, fades, overdubs and anything else you fancy.
When you are happy with the mix, your recording will need to be mastered. Considered by many to be a dark art, this is the process of making your tracks ready for distribution. It involves balancing sonic elements so that the track can be played across any number of systems (car stereo, home stereo, mobile phone etc) and across all formats (mp3, WAV). Some studios offer this service. However, some artists prefer to use a remote service where they send the tracks off and they are mastered elsewhere.
We have a ton of tips for budding singers, musicians and recording artists to help you maximise your potential. Now that you have seen our 10 tips to make the most of the studio, you should have a look at our guide Choosing a recording studio and producer and What is Editing, Mixing and Mastering in a recording studio
- How does a recording studio work?
When you record at a studio your performance is captured by a microphone and fed through a mixing desk. There the sound gets balanced and compressed and it then makes its way onto a computer (some older studios still offer reel-to-reel tape recordings).
Once on the computer, effects and other elements can be added. The song can then be mixed and mastered before being converted into a file that can be played on the stereo of some sort. As the artist, you will be able to take home a finished copy of what you create, which you can use to create a CD, Vinyl record, upload to SoundCloud or submit to iTunes, Spotify or any other streaming service.
- When should I go to a recording studio?
When you are happy that your song is a complete entity that can be performed to the best of your ability. You should know exactly how to reproduce the song in a studio setting with live or virtual instruments so that an engineer/producer can create a finished track for you.
- What is an engineer at a recording studio?
The engineer is responsible for the technical system that will capture your performance and feed it through the desk to the computer. In short, he is responsible for the sound.
- What is a record producer in a recording studio?
In the context of a recording studio, a producer is responsible for coaching the artists to deliver the best possible performance, making changes to song arrangements and managing the recording session, which can include supervising the engineer.
- What do I need to bring with me to the studio?
If you are a singer, the studio should provide everything you need. If you play an instrument you will need to bring it along with you as well as any effects and amplifiers you need to create your sound.
Share your songs that you’ve recorded and let us know how you like to record a song in the studio.